Once Upon a Time……

I was married once………………. Just typing those words is weird for me. It doesn’t feel like I personally was married at one time. I was such a different person. That is so far in my past and I am so disconnected from it that when I speak of it, I feel like I am talking about someone else; and in a way I am.

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I am not really one who subscribes to the notion that ‘everything happens for a reason’ or that ‘every shitty situation is a learning experience’ or any of the faith-based sayings that people use to explain things (I admit, I am not a religious person at all). I believe some of those things in certain situations. For example, I believe SOME things happen for a reason. I also believe that sometimes, shit just happens. There is no reason and I have learned that if I try to find a reason for everything, I drive myself insane.

My marriage though, whether it was supposed to be or not, was a lesson; was a growing experience. It was a shit show, but I am so different now than I was then. Good and Bad. When I think about it now, I cannot believe I was ever even married to that man. The woman I am now would NEVER. That change in who I was and who I am happened slowly and then all at once. I feel like the day I decided I was ‘done’, I morphed into this different person; or maybe I just went back to being who I had lost before the relationship.

I remember once he realized that I was serious and was moving on (no one ever thought I would. I was with him for 10 years, 2 kids and had put up with a lot and stayed) he suddenly became interested in saving a relationship where he had not invested any time in saving before. He would plead to get back together. One day I turned to him (we had been split for a year) and I said, “You would not like who I am now.” He seemed baffled. To him I was the same woman standing in front of him as I had always been..on the outside. But on the inside, I was different. I was determined, I was protective of my children and my wellbeing, I was smarter, and I was fed up.

“What do you mean,” he asked as if he was confused (although confused seemed to be a permanent state of mind for him back then: insert eyeroll: )

“You wouldn’t like who I am anymore. I am not the same dumbass that used to put up with your shit”.

He looked shocked and slightly defeated. So many times, I had been manipulated, emotionally broken down, I know there was a sense of panic in him realizing, this time, I was really done. There was no turning back. That’s when things got ugly of course…but I won’t get into all of that right now.

It takes a lot for me to give up on a relationship. That hasn’t changed about me (as I am working on letting a current situation go years later). That has always been a strength and a weakness about me. I don’t give up on relationships easily, but I also put up with way more crap than I should because of this, always hanging on to hope that things will get better. But, when I finally am done and decide to walk away, that’s it, I am done and there is no turning back. This usually stuns people because I come off like the ‘sure thing’. The girl you can take for granted because I will always be there. Its frustrating honestly that my loyalty has put me on people’s back burners so many times…but there is also something incredibly satisfying once I am able to walk away. To know that you are looked at as weak and that someone thinks they can treat you however they want is painful, but to get to that ‘fed up’ point and walk away is empowering. To show them that I don’t NEED you (as much as my loyalty makes me seem needy), I wanted you, I wanted to make it work, I am a fighter, but I also will eventually wave the white flag and walk away. To know what was never expected of me is exactly what I was finally able to do, feels good.

I don’t have great self-esteem, thanks to a lot of emotional abuse growing up. So that I think is partly why I hang in so long. Why I accept things I shouldn’t. I’m emotional. I cry. I’ll stay. I’ll put up. Especially where my kids were involved. I think he took advantage of these weak qualities in me. The sap in me. The hopeless romantic. The one who wants to be loved.

Even the nicest (or dumbest, whatever I was) person gets tired. One day I woke up after a hellish period in the relationship with the awful words he had said to me over the years, ringing in my head. “I would have never married you had I known what I know now.” “No one is ever going to want you with two kids, one with special needs,” “You’re just like your mother,” “ what you won’t do for me someone else will,” and all of the times I had been left alone while he bar hopped. I laid there and thought about who I was. I had been a devoted partner. I worked full time, I cared for our children, cared for his children from a previous relationship, cooked, cleaned supported him through a mental break down, etc. I wasn’t perfect, but I realized, I didn’t deserve the way I was being treated. I didn’t necessarily think “I can find someone who treats me better” because honestly at that point I didn’t care if I saw another penis again, that’s how done I was! But I also didn’t have the self esteem to even think anyone else would want me (still struggle with that), but I didn’t care. I was consumed with a 6-year-old with special needs child and a toddler. They were my life, they were all I needed. And so finally, much to his surprise, I ended it and kicked him out.

I remember he didn’t take much stuff. I know he thought I was bluffing, but I wasn’t. I had two girls to raise, to set examples for. I was no longer going to let them see me emotionally beat down by a man they called daddy. I felt like even at a young age, they needed to be shown that you don’t ever have to feel stuck!!! Yes, I would have less, I would struggle, but I will have been damned to stay in that any longer.

As time went on he would call to tell me he was coming to take the tv, or the bed or whatever else he felt belonged to him and would leave me with very little.

I will never forget one of these phone calls when I had just had enough of him thinking he was hurting me with STUFF. “TAKE IT,” I yelled “Take whatever you want from the house, I don’t need it. Just leave me my children and GO!”  That is all I cared about. My girls. I didn’t need anything else.

After that I started boxing up his stuff and giving it to his friend to deliver to him. I felt free. I felt strong. I felt ALL SET.

A lot happened after that (I’ll save that for other posts) but from then on it was me and my girls who were 6 and 2 at the time, against the world. They are now 20 and 16. Every struggle I went through with that jackass was worth it only because I got them. So, take your shit, take your ego. I have my girls. I got the better end of the deal.

“Oh.”

Have you ever had a situation that you feel bad about not feeling bad about? Something happens that most people, (that you) feel you should feel bad about and have in the past, but after a while you just become numb to it?

I have a daughter with special needs and pretty significant mental health issues. She is currently at 20 years old staying in a group home nearby. It was thought to be a chance at some structured independence and the best thing for my family and her. I question that choice often, but that’s another post or 10, for another time.

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Raising my oldest alone with so many needs has been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life and with her illness came crisis’s and ER visits and hospital stays, sometimes for weeks. These were often heartbreaking, emotionally exhausting and traumatic for me. They often followed some major “episode” that involved attempts at self-harm, harming me, threats and just out right chaos.

At 20, I cannot even remember how many times my daughter has sat in an ER for hours with me by her side and then transferred to some sort of mental health facility. It’s draining. You are filled with guilt, hurt, hopelessness and loneliness and still having to think about the other child (who you probably had to dump with a neighbor) and what they have witnessed and been through. As time goes on, all these feelings often come with some anger. Anger at your child (right or wrong), at the system, at the world and this life in general.

I recently got a call from a crisis management person that my oldest was sitting in the ER awaiting transfer to a stabilization unit because she attempted to “jump out a window”. I put this in quotes because my oldest can be a master manipulator and many “attempts” in the past have been more strategies to deflect from a situation she might have been called out on or just a need for dramatics and attention when things are too quiet in her life. I’ve never really feared that she WANTED to kill herself. I have more feared that in her impulse to threaten or make a scene that she would ACCIDENTLY harm herself, because in those moments I do not think she thinks about the possible irreversible consequences to what she does ( for example, accidently actually falling out of a window because she is hysterical and sitting on the ledge or accidently stabbing herself or me in a struggle because she impulsively grabbed a knife). I also often worry about her someday actually being serious and doing something terrible, because let’s face it, her mental illness puts her at a higher risk for suicide. As a mother I cannot tell you how scary that is. How many nights I have laid awake thinking one of these days I am going to lose her. That I could very likely outlive my child. Some may think these are morbid thoughts, but this is life with my oldest and has been for a very long time.

At this point in her life, and at the advice of her therapist who has walked with us on this journey since 2006 (I always say if anyone knows my oldest as well as I do, if not better it would be her therapist. She’s amazing) I have been trying to step back a little bit. This has been for my own sanity and for my oldest to learn to manage her mental health on her own and navigate getting help when she needs. It also, to be honest, is an effort to show her that the world cannot stop (like it used to) every single time she can’t handle life. Now don’t think me insensitive. I deal with depression and anxiety. I get it. I get the need for support and what not and my oldest has that, from me and from more people than most of us would. But there are times when she does things for attention or to manipulate and its not always easy to tell when (which is why you should always take that stuff seriously) so the less reaction she gets (from me especially) the less this has become her “go to” coping mechanism. With that said, it still happens and probably always will. There was a time it seemed one man’s crisis was my Tuesday. I didn’t even know what qualified as a crisis anymore.

So I get this call and I question the circumstances. I know the lady on the other end probably thought me callous in my questions and the tone I had. When I hung up the phone, I remember staring at the TV. I really felt nothing major. No tears, no sadness, no anger. I felt more like you feel when someone tells you that you’re having left overs for dinner. “Oh…again”. Suddenly I was overcome with a feeling I am all too familiar with, so much so that its been joked it should be my middle name. GUILT. I felt guilt. Not guilt that I had done something or didn’t do enough (I live with that kind of stuff daily) but I felt guilty that I did not feel sad or concerned about the fact that my daughter was sitting in an ER 20 minutes away, waiting for a bed on a crisis unit. It has gotten to the point where my main concern is knowing where she is and since I knew that, I was “okay”. I knew I would probably hear from her at some point.

So, I just sat there in my guilt. Shouldn’t I be sad? Shouldn’t I feel badly that my daughter is in crisis and I am not there? Am I a bad mother? A heartless mother because I am no longer phased by these types of phone calls. Worse, am I a terrible person for actually dreading the phone call from her once she was placed? I thought how insane it was that this was my “normal”. I mean what the fuck? Why is this NORMAL? I wondered if any other mothers feel the way I do. I felt really alone.

In the past when the hospital visits started (around 12 years old) and kept happening, I would be plagued with hurt and sadness and exhaustion and a little anger. I would sit in ER rooms with her for hours after she had flipped our household upside down, watching her sometimes behave as if nothing happened as she sat in the hospital bed watching tv, while I squirmed in hard chairs, surrounded by security, playing on my phone through the blur of tears. Times I would have to leave to tend to my youngest and cried at the position of being torn between the two. Leaving my oldest alone but also hurting for my youngest who had been left to process the situation on her own. Pulled in two directions and wanting to do what is right by both girls. How do you do what is right when you don’t know what that is ?

Now, my oldest doesn’t live here anymore. Other people are the ones that make the call to transfer her, other people deal with the dramatic displays and the scary situations she puts herself in. Trust me, I feel guilty for that too (told you it should be my middle name). I feel so removed from it all now. It’s a weird feeling. It’s not a motherly feeling. It’s not that I don’t care. This is my normal.

This kind of stuff should not be ANYONE’S normal. I sit, I think, I wait for her call. I speak with her briefly. She sounds alright. The conversation is awkward. I tell her I love her and we hang up and again I sit staring. I feel awful. I feel bad. But what I feel bad about is that I don’t feel bad about the situation. What kind of person does that make me?

When her sister gets home, I say “Your sister is in the hospital again”. Her response? “Oh” and then moves to the kitchen to get a snack. That’s it. That is both of us. “oh”.

I never in a million years, the first time I sat in an ER with my child, crying and beside myself, yelling at people to do their jobs, feeling like I would collapse from exhaustion, thought that I would someday feel nothing but “Oh”.